Staff Q&A with Sue Sproat and Chris Hyson

Sue Sproat and Chris Hyson come from different professional backgrounds: Sproat is a human resources and benefits veteran, and Hyson, a wellness programming specialist.

Still, they’ve each found themselves tucked into the same niche at Penn—providing resources to faculty and staff with the ultimate goal of benefitting their health.

Since Hyson joined the Division of Human Resources (HR) nearly four months ago, she and Sproat have put their heads together to assess how they can continue to improve one of HR’s most popular programs: the “Be in the Know” campaign.

The “Be in the Know” campaign is a three-part, confidential biometric screening and assessment. To participate, faculty and staff can take a series of quick tests that measure key indicators of overall health—including blood pressure, total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and glucose levels—at various on-campus locations or from their personal physician. Faculty and staff still have time through Dec. 23 to submit their biometric numbers via the HR website to qualify for the 2014-2015 campaign.

Then, from Jan. 12 through Feb. 27, participants can complete a brief health assessment via Penn’s online wellness portal StayWell to receive a $100 cash incentive, less taxes, in their April paycheck. Employees can go a step further by completing any qualifying healthy living opportunities presented on the StayWell portal to receive an additional cash incentive of $35.

“It’s been really rewarding to be out at the screenings and hear returning participants say, ‘This made a big difference in my health,’” Hyson says. “When we get the data from the campaign, we’ll be able to tell what particular topics to focus on and what people are looking for—all to enhance the health of the people on our campus.”

The Current caught up with Sproat and Hyson in the HR offices at 3401 Walnut St. to talk about what drives the “Be in the Know” campaign, the challenges of communicating health messaging to faculty and staff, and the importance of staying healthy in the workplace.

Q: Can you talk about the design of the ‘Be in the Know’ campaign and the strategy behind it?
A: Sproat: From the outset, we knew that it’s a best practice to include some level of biometric screening for faculty and staff. We thought that would be a good place for us to start because it catches people who are underserved in the health community—for instance, people who don’t go to the doctor often or people who don’t have a good relationship with a primary care physician. It also catches some very serious conditions that are potentially dangerous for people. We did catch a number of those [cases] in our first year for people who had high blood pressure and probably did not have a doctor. They either went right to the emergency room or were urged to go to their doctor. We catch a few of those every year, which is great because we do believe those are people who we’ve helped avoid a serious condition later. But I think we’re most proud about offering a cash incentive rather than anything negative. It really was about engagement. We wanted people to understand that we’re going to bring it to you, and all you have to do is show up. Really, we want people to say, ‘OK, now that I know my numbers and my cholesterol’s good, how do I keep it that way?’ Or, ‘My blood pressure is a little high, what can I do to lower it?’ We want people to take the next step. We envision adding additional incentives for doing something—not simply for having low blood pressure or cholesterol, but for taking the action to fix it or maintain
it. Our mantra is, we’re not going to go down the negative road. We envision we will continue to offer a positive incentive.

Q: What are some of the benefits that individuals can reap from participating in this type of program?
A: Hyson: Obviously, one of the benefits is learning some key indicators about your health. I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power. You can do something about an issue if you have information. Ignoring it doesn’t really help you or anybody. Certainly, we want people to understand the StayWell portal. It offers health coaching, and there’s a great tobacco cessation program, as well as healthy living programs, and much more. StayWell’s website is rich with information. And then of course you get a little boost in your paycheck, which is always nice. To me it’s about learning about your health and making a difference, but we want to have something to resonate with everyone.

Sproat: We have had people come back to us and say, ‘This started me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting to have to start on.’ I think the more it’s in our culture, the more people will think, ‘Let’s get up and move,’ or ‘Let’s not have this meeting for two-and-a-half hours.’ We will have opportunities over time to build that culture of wellness and fitness. Personally, two years ago, I started going to the gym, and I hadn’t been to the gym in years. But there are only so many wellness meetings you can sit in before you say, ‘Why are you not doing this yourself?’ So I started on my own personal journey that way, and a lot of people have told me that they are, too. A lot of us are busy—we’re moms, we’re daughters, we’re all those things, and it’s very easy to say, ‘I’m not going to do it today.’

Q: What are the benefits to the University for deploying a program like ‘Be in the Know’?
A: Sproat: More than anything, the goal is to eventually create more health promotion programs. We’re not really looking to lower the cost [Penn pays in benefits]. The goal of ‘Be in the Know’ really, more than anything, is to keep a productive, healthy organization. People who are healthier are going to be more engaged. I think that’s the bottom line. We want people to have good, healthy, productive lives, in and out of work.

Q: What are some of the barriers you face when trying to deliver the message of health and wellness awareness among faculty and staff?
A: Hyson: I think a lot of the barriers are personal. Just having that mindset of, ‘I don’t have the time or the resources to take care of myself, and I’ve got too many other people I’m taking care of at work or at home.’ It takes a conscious decision to decide to make a commitment to health because taking care of yourself is going to benefit everybody. It’s about saying, ‘I’m going to enjoy my life and sleep better and enjoy increased energy and all those great outcomes that come from a healthy lifestyle.’ I think I’m in this field because I realize that I enjoy life best when I’m free from illness and injury, and when I’m doing all those important things like eating well and sleeping well and being active and engaging with other people and being productive. It’s not easy—I’m a working wife and mother, too, with aging parents, like many people in the Penn community. Everybody is taking care of everyone but themselves. We really want people to understand that Penn wants you to take care of yourself, and we have some great resources and tools on campus to help.

Q: For you personally, why do you think it’s important for employees to stay mindful of their health while on the job?
A: Sproat: To be honest with you, my ideas about employee health have evolved. Earlier in my career, part of me felt like, ‘Why do I want to tell someone to be healthy? What business is that of the employer?’ It’s taken me awhile to be OK with the fact that as an employer, we should be offering this. But that’s also one of the reasons that I really feel strongly about it being voluntary and confidential. If anything, you come to realize that the workplace enters your personal life and your personal life enters your workplace. They’re so intertwined. For me, it’s not about the employer getting anything, it’s about the employer making it easy for the employee to get something for themselves.

Hyson: To me, health is everything. And it’s not just about being free from injury and illness, it’s about quality of life and all the great benefits you can get from taking good care of yourself. Human Resources is about supporting our people. And we’re so busy as individuals assisting everybody else that this is our chance to take care of our employees and to say, ‘You are important, you are valued, and we want you to take care of yourself.’

Sproat Hyson